Facebook: Friend or Foe?

Last week was Mental Health Week. There was lots of talk in the media about depression, anxiety and mental illness. This prompted many discussions amongst my friends about mental health and it was revealed anecdotally that we all knew people who suffered depression or anxiety or had experienced it ourselves.

Recent studies have found that Facebook, something many uni students profess to be addicted to, can cause mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or eating disorders, or could be exasperating existing mental health conditions by increasing people’s stress levels and negatively affecting self esteem.

Facebook - Helps you connect and share with people in your life? (MoneyBlogNewz (cc))
Facebook – Helps you connect and share with people in your life? (MoneyBlogNewz (cc)).

The majority of Facebook users are university students, with 85-96% of uni students having accounts on the site. Today Facebook is used as a major source of social interaction and communication by young people. Facebook may be replacing real world, offline interactions.

The average student spends 2.5 hours a day on Facebook. Students who used Facebook while studying reported higher levels of stress and felt less in control of things.

Facebook allows a person to create a profile and carefully curate what image they present to others. People can become obsessed with their online appearance. Anxiety can develop through feeling inadequate and constantly comparing yourself to others on Facebook.

Frequent Facebook use has been linked to eating disorders. Looking through images that may have been edited and show thin idealization as well as comparing yourself to others can affect eating habits due to body dissatisfaction.

Facebook provides constant updates and notifications, not allowing respite. People continually update their status and scroll newsfeeds through out the day.

People with high anxiety and depression are likely to use Facebook to pass time and to feel less lonely. But they may later feel worse then before. Social anxiety, depression and stress are positively correlated with time spent on Facebook.

Facebook could be an opportunity for social interaction for people who struggle with face to face interactions. However studies found shyness and the desire to avoid face to face communication was not related to the amount of time spent on Facebook. Everybody seems to be on Facebook regardless of their level of social anxiety.

People suffering depression are more likely to have low self-esteem and post depressing status updates, seeking reassurance on Facebook. It has been found the frequency of status updates is negatively related to self esteem. This reassurance seeking behavior often increased feelings that one does not belong or that one is a burden.

Through using Facebook to seek reassurance people may inadvertently subject themselves to interpersonal rejection, which could negatively impact their self-esteem.

We are through the looking glass, and it now is quite unreasonable to ask people not to use Facebook. However being aware of your own use of Facebook and maintaining offline social networks may decrease your likelihood of developing or aggravating any mental health issues that could be triggered by Facebook.

If you or anyone you know are suffering poor mental health, such as depression, anxiety, stress or disordered eating please go to www.beyondblue.org.au or call 1300 22 4636, anytime day for night for help.

3 Responses to “Facebook: Friend or Foe?”

  1. Sarah Webber says:

    Interesting post, Olivia! I’m really fascinated in how our ‘online behaviour’ and networks can impact our social lives and well-being, as individuals and communities. It’s certainly true this is a timely topic, especially as it was recently revealed that Facebook subjected users to experiments aiming to manipulate their emotional state. http://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2014/08/04/the-facebook-experiment-what-it-means-for-you/. Not cool.

    Fortunately, there is far more positive research underway looking at how we can design online communities which promote real, human connections (rather than narcissism and fear of rejection) and promote mental wellbeing. And the horyzons project is looking at how peer social networks can support people with other forms of mental illness. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23146146

    So hopefully we will start to see more positive online social networks in the future! Move over, Facebook!

  2. gpereira says:

    yup, i agree with both your post and Jessica, but i’m not quite at the “reassessing my addiction” stage yet, will probably have a quick check after commenting here too 🙂

  3. Jessica Breadsell says:

    Great post Olivia, really highlights the need to be aware of our social media usage. It is so easy to just quickly check facebook on our phones between lectures or on the tram when our brain would usually be ‘resting’ or thinking about other things.
    Facebook can be so useful for staying in touch with friends and family who live far away or coordinating uni group projects though so it’s not all bad 🙂